We first saw it in "Legally Blonde," the frothy Reese Witherspoon movie about a spurned SoCal sorority darling who follows her love to Harvard - and who gets in to that prestigious law school with good grades, great test scores and a hilarious video. While Harvard Law administrators must have cringed over their fictitious counterparts' delight over a bikini-clad Elle Woods demonstrating her grasp of legalese - "I object!" - the reality is that video supplements have become the newest thing to hit the college admissions world.
Where once only budding cinematographers submitted videos when applying to the film schools of their dreams, now applicants at Pitzer College, Tufts and several other universities can supply admissions officers with a short video, if they wish, in addition to the usual essays and test scores. In 2010, about 1,000 of Tufts' 15,000 applicants uploaded 1-minute video supplements - and soon, a number of those little films had gone viral on YouTube, including one applicant's math dance, which scored more than 94,000 hits, and another's motorized elephant, "The Flight of the Jumbo" (the university's mascot is Jumbo, the pachyderm).
From the college perspective, the videos give added insight, a sense of who this kid is, quirks and all - and it's a way to embrace teens' affection for and skill with new media. But public response has been all over the map, with some fretting that this constitutes an American Idol-ification of the college admissions process, subverts the color-blind admissions process or gives an edge to the well-to-do. But Tufts says more than a quarter of the video submissions came from financial aid applicants, and points out that the video component is in addition to, not instead of the usual grades, essays, tests and letters of recommendation. And most colleges know exactly what race their applicants are - they ask them on the application, and they see it when students come in for interviews. (And if they're admitting disproportionate percentages of one race or another, that shows up in the post-admissions stats, which are made public.) If anything, it seems to me to be a welcome alternative for kids who can't afford to fly cross-country for an on-campus interview.
The question now is how long it will take the counseling industry to add videography and scriptwriting tutors to the pricey arsenal of admissions essay editors, organizational specialists and test prep experts hired by anxious families.